July 26, 2012

Opponent Preview: The Penn State Nittany Lions

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With the Urban Meyer Era fewer than 40 days aways from kicking off in Columbus, we at Buckeye Grove- along with some help from our friends in the Rivals.com network- have decided to take an in-depth look at each of Ohio State's opponents for the 2012 season. Today, we'll be examining the Buckeyes' ninth opponent of the season: the Penn State Nittany Lions. You can see yesterday's preview of the Purdue Boilermakers by clicking here.

Thanks to NCAA sanctions that will allow Penn State players to transfer without penalty before the 2012 season, it is nearly impossible to predict what the Nittany Lions' roster will look like a week from now, let alone on Oct. 27, which is when Ohio State will travel to Happy Valley to face its Big Ten Leaders Division foe. But with that in mind, here's what we do know about Penn State as we approach the start of fall camp:

For the first time since xxxx, the Nittany Lions will enter a season with a head coach not named Joe Paterno. Taking over the reins of the program is former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. With Penn State not eligible to play in a bowl game again until the 2016 season, expect O'Brien to place even more of an emphasis on a pro-style offense designed to prepare college players for the NFL.

"Without knowing which players are going to still be at Penn State when the season actually begins, it's tough to tell exactly what he'll be able to do. That said, it's a safe bet that he's going to have a much more complex offense than the one Penn State previously ran," Nate Bauer of BlueWhite Illustrated said. "Tight end Garry Gilliam is the big winner here, if O'Brien utilizes the position as much as everyone thinks he will."

Getting the first crack at directing O'Brien's offense will be fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, who beat out fellow quarterbacks Paul Jones and Rob Bolden in the spring for the right to be called the starter heading into fall camp. More of a game manager-type, McGloin threw for 1,571 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011 while splitting time taking snaps with Bolden.

"Bolden simply has dropped off the map, so while McGloin's ceiling isn't extremely high, he has played up to his potential and has the confidence of Penn State's coaches," Bauer said. "If he can play within himself, he is a more than serviceable quarterback with enough chutzpah to direct Penn State's offense this season."

Perhaps the biggest question regarding the Nittany Lions' roster right now is whether or not junior running back Silas Redd will return to Happy Valley. Having rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011, Redd is a rumored recruiting target of Southern California, and his decision in the coming weeks could play a crucial role in the success of Penn State this season.

"I think the odds are higher that Redd returns than leaves, and if he stays, then he's the clear cut star on Penn State's offense," Bauer said. "That said, if he does leave, Justin Brown is the wideout to watch, along with Alex Kenney, a burner who should be in the slot with the departure of Devon Smith. Bill Belton is a talented but raw running back who has committed to sticking around. He'll be important regardless of what Redd does."

As of now, the Nittany Lions will return four starters to a defensive unit that ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 5 nationally in scoring. Barring any transfers, Bauer expects the defensive side of the ball to remain steady, even with the departure of 2011 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still.

"Most of the ingredients from last season's outstanding defense are back, and there are some welcomed returns in the form of a healthy Mike Mauti at linebacker," Bauer said. "The front seven, with Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones as standouts at tackle, plus Mauti and Gerald Hodges at linebacker, should make for an outstanding core on the defensive side of the ball."

While the front seven at Penn State seems solid, the Nittany Lions will be breaking in four new starters in their secondary, including cornerbacks Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris and safeties Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong. That could mean a big day for Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and his young receiving corps.

As a team that will also be unable to play in any postseason bowl games this year, perhaps nobody will understand the current frustration of the Nittany Lions more than the Buckeyes. Ohio State players will also be able to understand the current attitude of Penn State players, as it's similar to the one that they adopted in the 2011 season.

"Us against the world," Bauer said when asked to describe the Nittany Lions' collective mindset. "No question about it, these kids think they've been treated unfairly by the NCAA and, through no fault of their own, have even more to prove now that they've been eliminated from the conversation of teams in the conference with an opportunity to win a Big Ten championship.

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions 6 p.m. kickoff in Happy Valley on Oct. 27 will air live on either ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC.

You can follow Nate Bauer on Twitter @NateBauerBWI.


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